A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group docked into Hong Kong on Wednesday in what some have interpreted as a sign of easing tensions between China and the U.S.
The move comes about two months after China denied a similar visit by a U.S. warship and is believed to be an effort to thaw relations before the leaders of the two countries meet at the G-20 summit in Argentina due to take place next week.
According to the Hong Kong Maritime Department, authorities in Beijing cleared aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and guided-missile destroyers USS Benfold and USS Curtis Wilbur for the visit to Hong Kong, CNN writes.
The visit also comes less than two months after tensions between the U.S. and China were sparked by the USS Decatur’s “freedom of navigation” operation which it performed near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea where it came within 45 yards of a Chinese destroyer. U.S. officials said at the time that the Chinese ship’s actions were “unsafe.”
The head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, accused China of using a campaign of military intimidation in the South China Sea.
“They’re now violating the sovereignty of every other nation’s ability to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law,” he said during the Halifax International Security Forum on Sunday.
Vice President Mike Pence had previously made similar comments when addressing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea.
However, despite such direct criticism, Wednesday’s developments are seen as a goodwill gesture ahead of next week’s international summit when President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are to discuss trade. In recent weeks, there has been widespread optimism that an agreement would be reached before the two leaders’ tete-a-tete.